Skip to main content
Sabrang
Sabrang
Freedom Rule of Law

The only hope

Abdus Sattar Ghazali 01 Feb 2008
Manufacturing a fig leaf of democracy in Pakistan

The Government of Pakistan early in February stopped the Washington-based International Republican Institute (IRI) from performing exit polls on the February 18 general elections. Consequently, the institute, headed by US Senator John McCain, reversed a decision to send election observers for the polls. It was the only US group planning to send observers although European teams still plan to be in place. 

According to an IRI poll in September 2006, Musharraf had a 63 per cent approval rating. But last October 11, the IRI released a poll showing him down at 21 per cent. Thirteen days later, an official letter arrived, telling the IRI that it was not possible to register the group in Pakistan "due to administrative reasons". 

Why was the IRI stopped from conducting the exit polls? The reason appears obvious. The government of President (retd General) Pervez Musharraf does not want exit polls to challenge ‘doctored’ official election results.  

To digress from the subject, General Musharraf was re-elected as president for five years in October last by a parliament whose term expired a month later. Just to refresh your memories, he was chief of army staff when he sought re-election and resigned from the army post only after the controversial re-election which saw many parliamentarians quitting and boycotting the election because constitutionally, a serving general was not eligible to stand for president.  

Not surprisingly, popular perceptions about the integrity of the electoral process in Pakistan are dismal. Only 21 per cent of the country’s voting age population believes elections in the country are free and fair, a percentage that is among the lowest in the world. In a Gallup International study of around 60 countries, Pakistan is ahead of only the Philippines (19 per cent) and Nigeria (nine per cent) in this regard. 

According to Pakistan’s Citizens Group on Electoral Process (CGEP), the past eight elections, from 1970 to 2002, have been marred by rigging in three phases: pre-poll, polling day and post-poll.

Pre-poll rigging refers to a deliberate attempt to selectively tilt the rules of a level playing field in favour of or against any contestant. It includes violation of constitutional requirements such as: 1) Neutrality of the caretaker government; 2) Independence of the election commission and related judiciary; 3) Neutrality of the election administration staff; 4) Violation of freedom of media to approach voters; and 5) Use of public resources to benefit some contestants and/or hurt others, including politically partisan use of development funds through various government agencies such as utility organisations (electricity, gas) and local bodies. 

Polling day rigging refers to violation of the integrity (honesty) of the ballot box. It includes: tampering with/stuffing ballot boxes; impersonation and multiple voting; prevention of voting by certain persons or groups through unlawful means, including coercion; dishonest counting of votes and dishonest tabulation of results. 

Post-poll rigging refers to the absence of fair play in the formation of a government according to popular mandate. It includes the use of public resources (in violation of constitutional provisions) to influence, affect or alter the formation of government. This is particularly acute when the above is done to support the formation of a government by those undeserving according to the will of the people or to demolish a government by those who are upheld by the will of the people. 

President Musharraf has already completed the first phase of election rigging. In November 2007 he imposed emergency rule. One of the first steps Musharraf took under emergency rule was to replace Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry whom he had initially tried to dismiss in March 2007. He sacked dozens of independent-minded judges. Musharraf then moved to crack down on the media, lawyers, social activists and secular and religious political opponents. Under domestic and international pressure, he rescinded the state of emergency but the harsh measures remained in force. 

There can be no two opinions on the fact that without an independent judiciary and a free media, fair and free elections will not be possible. There is a popular demand to restore all sacked judges. However, the US has declined to support popular demand for the restoration of an independent judiciary. Assistant secretary of state Richard Boucher told a congressional panel on January 29 that Pakistan could deal with the dispute involving the judiciary after the elections as it was important to hold the elections first. Tellingly, Boucher admitted that there would be rigging in the elections. "We don’t necessarily accept a certain level of fraud but if history is any guide and current reports are any guide we should expect some," Boucher told the law-makers.  

The last general election of 2002 witnessed unparalleled heights of pre-poll and post-poll rigging. In order to perpetuate the rule of General Pervez Musharraf, a number of illegal rules were framed. Since the country was practically governed under an extra-constitutional arrangement, there was no concern about ensuring a level playing field, neutrality of the administration or independence of the election commission. To this extent, the pre-poll partisan role of the state was a continuation of previous unlawful practice but the 2002 election carried it a step further by engaging a sizeable number of military officials, local government functionaries and other public servants to play an openly political role at the grass roots. Similarly, post-poll interference with the electoral process was massive. In no other election in Pakistan, with the possible exception of 1970 when the electoral result was totally overturned, was the electoral outcome disturbed as ruthlessly and unlawfully as in 2002. This was done through systematic use of rewards, punishments and intimidation by the state apparatus under the leadership of General Pervez Musharraf. 

A rigged election (in 2008) would have serious consequences for domestic stability and regional and wider international security, says the Brussels-based International Crisis Group (ICG). In 2002 the military government rigged the elections and was able to survive with its power, if not legitimacy, intact. This year opposition to centralised, authoritarian rule has grown considerably, particularly in the smaller provinces. To neutralise this, the government will be more dependent than ever on the most problematic of its civilian partners. 

In Sindh, for example, it will have little alternative for countering Bhutto’s Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and its predominantly Sindhi constituency other than to use the electoral machinery to favour its MQM (Muttahida (formerly Mohajir) Quami Movement) allies. This would further stoke Mohajir-Sindhi tensions, already high after the May 12, 2007 killings of PPP workers by MQM activists. An MQM government in Sindh, in coalition with Musharraf’s ruling party, would not only fuel anti-military sentiments but could well return the province to bloody ethnic conflict. 

In Balochistan, where the military’s attempts to crush demands for democracy and provincial rights have triggered a province-wide insurgency, the prospects for the Baloch regional parties to win a free and fair election and form the provincial government have increased considerably. Rigged elections could seriously strain the cohesion of the federation even as they benefit the Islamist parties. The Baloch nationalist parties already have an uphill task to convince their young workers that political change can and should come through the ballot box, not the gun. Should the election be rigged, that choice may no longer appear viable to many Baloch dissidents who have borne the brunt of military rule for eight years, the ICG report concluded. 

In the NWFP (North-West Frontier Province) too, the government will have little choice but to give its allies free rein to manipulate the electoral process if it is to retain their support not just in the province but also in the national parliament.  

However, a distorted and rigged electoral process will not ensure regime stability let alone national cohesion. The parliamentary elections are crucial for Pakistan’s long-term viability as a democratic state. If they are free and fair, they will restore public faith in state institutions and constitutional and legal ways of changing governments.
 

The only hope

Manufacturing a fig leaf of democracy in Pakistan

The Government of Pakistan early in February stopped the Washington-based International Republican Institute (IRI) from performing exit polls on the February 18 general elections. Consequently, the institute, headed by US Senator John McCain, reversed a decision to send election observers for the polls. It was the only US group planning to send observers although European teams still plan to be in place. 

According to an IRI poll in September 2006, Musharraf had a 63 per cent approval rating. But last October 11, the IRI released a poll showing him down at 21 per cent. Thirteen days later, an official letter arrived, telling the IRI that it was not possible to register the group in Pakistan "due to administrative reasons". 

Why was the IRI stopped from conducting the exit polls? The reason appears obvious. The government of President (retd General) Pervez Musharraf does not want exit polls to challenge ‘doctored’ official election results.  

To digress from the subject, General Musharraf was re-elected as president for five years in October last by a parliament whose term expired a month later. Just to refresh your memories, he was chief of army staff when he sought re-election and resigned from the army post only after the controversial re-election which saw many parliamentarians quitting and boycotting the election because constitutionally, a serving general was not eligible to stand for president.  

Not surprisingly, popular perceptions about the integrity of the electoral process in Pakistan are dismal. Only 21 per cent of the country’s voting age population believes elections in the country are free and fair, a percentage that is among the lowest in the world. In a Gallup International study of around 60 countries, Pakistan is ahead of only the Philippines (19 per cent) and Nigeria (nine per cent) in this regard. 

According to Pakistan’s Citizens Group on Electoral Process (CGEP), the past eight elections, from 1970 to 2002, have been marred by rigging in three phases: pre-poll, polling day and post-poll.

Pre-poll rigging refers to a deliberate attempt to selectively tilt the rules of a level playing field in favour of or against any contestant. It includes violation of constitutional requirements such as: 1) Neutrality of the caretaker government; 2) Independence of the election commission and related judiciary; 3) Neutrality of the election administration staff; 4) Violation of freedom of media to approach voters; and 5) Use of public resources to benefit some contestants and/or hurt others, including politically partisan use of development funds through various government agencies such as utility organisations (electricity, gas) and local bodies. 

Polling day rigging refers to violation of the integrity (honesty) of the ballot box. It includes: tampering with/stuffing ballot boxes; impersonation and multiple voting; prevention of voting by certain persons or groups through unlawful means, including coercion; dishonest counting of votes and dishonest tabulation of results. 

Post-poll rigging refers to the absence of fair play in the formation of a government according to popular mandate. It includes the use of public resources (in violation of constitutional provisions) to influence, affect or alter the formation of government. This is particularly acute when the above is done to support the formation of a government by those undeserving according to the will of the people or to demolish a government by those who are upheld by the will of the people. 

President Musharraf has already completed the first phase of election rigging. In November 2007 he imposed emergency rule. One of the first steps Musharraf took under emergency rule was to replace Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry whom he had initially tried to dismiss in March 2007. He sacked dozens of independent-minded judges. Musharraf then moved to crack down on the media, lawyers, social activists and secular and religious political opponents. Under domestic and international pressure, he rescinded the state of emergency but the harsh measures remained in force. 

There can be no two opinions on the fact that without an independent judiciary and a free media, fair and free elections will not be possible. There is a popular demand to restore all sacked judges. However, the US has declined to support popular demand for the restoration of an independent judiciary. Assistant secretary of state Richard Boucher told a congressional panel on January 29 that Pakistan could deal with the dispute involving the judiciary after the elections as it was important to hold the elections first. Tellingly, Boucher admitted that there would be rigging in the elections. "We don’t necessarily accept a certain level of fraud but if history is any guide and current reports are any guide we should expect some," Boucher told the law-makers.  

The last general election of 2002 witnessed unparalleled heights of pre-poll and post-poll rigging. In order to perpetuate the rule of General Pervez Musharraf, a number of illegal rules were framed. Since the country was practically governed under an extra-constitutional arrangement, there was no concern about ensuring a level playing field, neutrality of the administration or independence of the election commission. To this extent, the pre-poll partisan role of the state was a continuation of previous unlawful practice but the 2002 election carried it a step further by engaging a sizeable number of military officials, local government functionaries and other public servants to play an openly political role at the grass roots. Similarly, post-poll interference with the electoral process was massive. In no other election in Pakistan, with the possible exception of 1970 when the electoral result was totally overturned, was the electoral outcome disturbed as ruthlessly and unlawfully as in 2002. This was done through systematic use of rewards, punishments and intimidation by the state apparatus under the leadership of General Pervez Musharraf. 

A rigged election (in 2008) would have serious consequences for domestic stability and regional and wider international security, says the Brussels-based International Crisis Group (ICG). In 2002 the military government rigged the elections and was able to survive with its power, if not legitimacy, intact. This year opposition to centralised, authoritarian rule has grown considerably, particularly in the smaller provinces. To neutralise this, the government will be more dependent than ever on the most problematic of its civilian partners. 

In Sindh, for example, it will have little alternative for countering Bhutto’s Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and its predominantly Sindhi constituency other than to use the electoral machinery to favour its MQM (Muttahida (formerly Mohajir) Quami Movement) allies. This would further stoke Mohajir-Sindhi tensions, already high after the May 12, 2007 killings of PPP workers by MQM activists. An MQM government in Sindh, in coalition with Musharraf’s ruling party, would not only fuel anti-military sentiments but could well return the province to bloody ethnic conflict. 

In Balochistan, where the military’s attempts to crush demands for democracy and provincial rights have triggered a province-wide insurgency, the prospects for the Baloch regional parties to win a free and fair election and form the provincial government have increased considerably. Rigged elections could seriously strain the cohesion of the federation even as they benefit the Islamist parties. The Baloch nationalist parties already have an uphill task to convince their young workers that political change can and should come through the ballot box, not the gun. Should the election be rigged, that choice may no longer appear viable to many Baloch dissidents who have borne the brunt of military rule for eight years, the ICG report concluded. 

In the NWFP (North-West Frontier Province) too, the government will have little choice but to give its allies free rein to manipulate the electoral process if it is to retain their support not just in the province but also in the national parliament.  

However, a distorted and rigged electoral process will not ensure regime stability let alone national cohesion. The parliamentary elections are crucial for Pakistan’s long-term viability as a democratic state. If they are free and fair, they will restore public faith in state institutions and constitutional and legal ways of changing governments.
 

Related Articles

Theme

Delhi HC

Hate Speech and Delhi Pogrom 2020

A spate of provocative speeches, that amount to hate speech in law and should be prosecuted allowed blood letting to spill on the streets of north east Delhi in February-March 2020
hashimpura

Hashimpura Massacre

The Lemmings of Hashimpura
summer

Summer Culture

Our first summer culture bouquet features fiction from Syria and Iraq and poetry and art from Palestine.
khoj

Teaching Without Prejudice

Report of the CABE Committee on 'Regulatory Mechanisms for Textbooks and Parallel Textbooks Taught in Schools Outside the Government System

Campaigns

IN FACT

Analysis

Delhi HC

Hate Speech and Delhi Pogrom 2020

A spate of provocative speeches, that amount to hate speech in law and should be prosecuted allowed blood letting to spill on the streets of north east Delhi in February-March 2020
hashimpura

Hashimpura Massacre

The Lemmings of Hashimpura
summer

Summer Culture

Our first summer culture bouquet features fiction from Syria and Iraq and poetry and art from Palestine.
khoj

Teaching Without Prejudice

Report of the CABE Committee on 'Regulatory Mechanisms for Textbooks and Parallel Textbooks Taught in Schools Outside the Government System

Archives